‘We knew we had to go far out to sea if we wanted to discover new monsters’ – Siobhán Kane talks with Rupert Orton & Jim Jones of The Jim Jones Revue.
When Jim Jones and Rupert Orton met some years ago, a musical kinship was established, and a great garage-rock band was born. Over the last number of years they have released three records; The Jim Jones Revue (2008), Here to Save Your Soul (2011), and last year’s The Savage Heart, which is a particularly interesting piece of work, borrowing influences from 1950’s rock and roll, to 1970’s glam rock; a journey perhaps best distilled in the wonderful ‘Midnight Oceans & the Savage Heart’. Working regularly with the very talented Jim Sclavunos (Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, Sonic Youth, The Cramps) has evolved their style, and the addition of Henri Herbert has grown their capabilities, as Jim Jones and Rupert Orton tell Siobhán Kane.
Your first record, recorded live and in a very short period of time – was a very pure personal statement – what did it feel like when you had recorded that moment? It seemed to suggest a raw intensity. JJ: The recording process of that first LP was quite workmanlike , we booked our rehearsal room for 2 days so that we could leave microphones set up, which is what we did for most of the first afternoon – just set microphones up – about 6or 7, placed around a tiny room. Once that was done we had half an hour in the pub for a break, and then worked on the stuff – we just played each song a few times until we were happy with it, and onto the next. We wrapped things up around 9 – 9.30 ish that night and came back in at around lunchtime the next day to work on the rest. When it was done I took it home and fiddled with the levels and stuff until it sounded tough enough, it’s pretty rough but I think it has a vibe … we couldn’t believe it when they played it on the BBC!
There are many speckles of influence over your three records – you seem to veer from punk to garage, avant-garde composition through to rock and roll – it must be wonderful to be in a band that can fold in all those influences, contract and expand as the needs allow, I think of ‘In and Out of Harm’s Way’ from your most recent record as a coda to that, because it morphs into something completely different from its beginning. JJ: Hopefully that weaving in and out of different flavours sounds organic … there’s quite a wide range of stuff we like, and we try to incorporate that into the writing. Our main goal is to keep it fresh and exciting…to ourselves at the very least.
In the last while Henri Herbert has come on board as your piano player. He would have been quite synonymous with the boogie-woogie scene, but it seems you were drawn to each other for similar reasons – he wanted to get away from that scene, and you wanted to get him away from that scene. How did you meet? JJ: Well, when Elliot[Mortimer] left, we were in a bad situation … we had a tour of Australia, and a tour of America beginning in less than a month, and a long European tour straight after that. We had no contingency plan, so all we could do was cast a very wide net and see what came back … we could have easily been fucked, but as luck would have it we scored a hat-trick ! For Australia we lucked out with Clayton Doley, a great player, and for the USA we were able to get Andrew Higley who had previously worked with The Green Horns, and Ben Folds. Back in London we had searched high and low, and we were lined up to work with Dom Pipkin, a terrifically talented player who worked with Paloma Faith, and is big on the New Orleans scene, but there were a few of our upcoming shows that he wouldn’t have been able to do due to previous bookings, so he suggested Henri. We were surprised Henri would be interested in something that could be perceived as blasphemy to some of the traditional boogie woogie purists, but as it turned out he was really keen to apply his skills to something less rigid. A lot of the guys he had been working with were telling him ‘chill out’, and ‘calm down’, and I think he really liked that we were saying ‘go go go’!
Can you envisage a time where the band actually swells to incorporate more members? For some reasons I can see brass making an appearance at some point. JJ: Yeah, we’ve talked about it … we did a couple shows with a few saxophones blasting in unison, and that was fun … we had Steve Mackay from The Stooges, and Jim Hunt who had been playing with Primal Scream, and Amy Winehouse (RIP).
With The Savage Heart – I read that both you and Rupert had read Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness around the same time, did the unchartered territory aspect become a kind of metaphor for living for you? For example, it seemed quite unexpected that you would have a song on there that had no guitars at all – ‘Seven Times Around the Sun’. How did that come about? JJ: Yeah, musically speaking we knew we had to go far out to sea if we wanted to discover new monsters. Originally it was planned to have guitars on that song but it just sounded more intense without them.
Do you think that the influence of Jim Sclavunos has brought you something different? Would it be fair to say that he guided you to strip things back to a more minimal sound? You always have so much going on anyway, but there seemed something quite pure that seemed to happen once he was more involved. JJ: Jim was great to work with, and part of that was that he is always very neutral … he has a marvellous way of supporting and defining what’s there already … the stripped down element was something that we were working on in the very early stages of songwriting, ‘Seven Times’ for instance wasn’t really changed – apart from a shorter ending – at all from our first demos.
Jim’s reputation is stellar; he has so much experience with artists who are trying to build new ideas – like Sonic Youth. RO: Whatever genre you’re involved in, the creative process is always going to involve lots of disparate personalities and ideas and The Savage Heart and The Jim Jones Revue is now different. It’s always interesting to break peoples’ preconceptions and rules. For instance, without getting too technical, there are no 1-4-5 12 bar song structures on The Savage Heart, which was our trademark on the previous two albums.
On the subject of bands building new ideas, I couldn’t help but think of Black Flag in the context of a song like ‘Never Gonna Let You Go’ – would they be a band/set of ideas that appealed to you? RO: Strange you should mention that! I’m big admirer of Gregg Ginn, and think that Damaged is a work of genius. I also based the running of The Jim Jones Revue on some of the hardcore acts of the ‘80’s by doing everything ourselves, especially at the start with the first album, but musically not so much, maybe it subconsciously crept in there!
Following on from that, those bands were always so politicised, and on your last record there seems to be an atmosphere of dissent, and restlessness and I wondered how far the riots in England influenced The Savage Heart, I suppose because it was the biggest civil disturbance for many decades in England, and was right outside so many people’s front doors. JJ: The whole riot thing is a thread that in one way or another informed the writing of the LP. For instance, on our end of tour journey from France back to London we were hearing scraps of news about the Tottenham situation and unrest and protests, and we drove straight into the middle of it. As we arrived in Hackney there were police riot vans zooming past us. I wanted to go to the shops to get some groceries, and they were all pulling down the shutters & closing up.
I got home just in time to look out the window and saw riot police advancing down my street and protesters coming the other way. This journey was what set us off rereading Joseph Conrad because of the parallels we’d experienced. It got us thinking about what a delicate balance civilization is, and how little it can take for that to break down, and how easily people can revert to their primal instincts.
We’re certainly not a hugely political band; we can only speak from personal experience. Not being part of the so called 1% means that our point of view and sense of what’s right resonates with a lot of people. We all have to live through this together.
I also wondered if your constant touring and traveling has influenced the new record, because touring is such an anchor to your lives – it must be a very deep theme to a lot of your work. JJ: For sure, we get to see stuff from a broader perspective. When we arrived in Moscow there was civil unrest due to Putin’s manipulated re election. The military police were in the process of sealing off Red Square and we walked into the middle of that. It certainly opens your eyes.
The talented Nick Lowe popped in to one of your recording sessions, and gave you notes of a kind, that must have been surreal. How did that happen and he is someone you esteem greatly? His work with The Damned is so interesting. Would he ever consider producing you one day – even just a song? JJ: You never know! He just gave us encouragement really, which from someone like him is a great vindication. It’s always nice when someone you admire turns out to be a real gent to boot.
Though you have so many fans in Europe – you are hugely popular in America – and I thought that this perhaps spoke to your own influences. What does America mean to you? It must have been very odd to be on Letterman, I suppose he is like the Johnny Carson of now – a real staple of American culture, and a kind of left-leaning beacon in his own way, yet also part of the establishment – an odd mix. JJ: For sure. The Letterman thing was a real thrill, and we had to battle hurricane-induced mental travel arrangements to get there but we were determined to make it happen. I think being that so much of what we listen to and admire is rooted in the US it’s only natural that what we do fits in there. Traditionally there has always been a back and forth musical relationship with the USA. The music gets perceived differently by either side, and gets bounced back and forth in a never-ending game of musical ping pong.
It was extremely sad that Nick Curran passed away, such an amazing musician – did you get the chance to work with him? I always felt he would be a natural addition to the Jim Jones Revue. JJ: He was such a talented guy, Nick showed everyone how to reset the bar. We were lucky enough to have him join us onstage when we played in Texas. He was amazing and a really sweet guy. It turned out that that was the last time he ever sang live, as he was in a lot of pain from the cancer. You would never have guessed there was anything wrong with him, as other than being very thin he looked great and performed amazingly. It was a real honour to have met him.
What are your plans for this year? I get the impression that ideas for your next record are already percolating. JJ: When we were working, writing, and doing preproduction for The Savage Heart, we uncovered a big vein of creativity … like a tap had been turned on, and we all agreed that as soon as we got the first big batch of touring out of the way, we wanted to get that tap running again, which is what we’re doing for the first part of this year, gathering ideas and songs together for the next project, and once the spring arrives we’ll be back on the road, and business as usual!